Thursday, April 13, 2006

Rice vs. First Amendment reports that Secretary of State Rice has removed Playboy and Penthouse from the magazine racks of State Department. Apparently she was concerned that the existence of the magazines in the newsstand at Foggy Bottom undermined the Department’s attempts to champion the rights of women worldwide. She also believed that their presence in the lobby, with the covers mostly hidden in brown paper wrappers, could contribute to a hostile work environment, according to her senior advisor Jim Wilkinson.

Last I checked, those magazines are perfectly legal. The models pictured in the photos are all over 18, paid for their work, and have signed releases to allow the photos to be published. Also included in both magazines are a wide selection of interviews with important or celebrated people, men’s fashion and shopping advice, sports articles, and fiction. Playboy, in particular, frequently publishes science fiction (my favorite genre) by very well-recognized authors – I suspect the same is true for mainstream short fiction.

So why are these magazines singled out? And if they are so horrible and dangerous, why are they still allowed to publish? I could understand an objection to employees reading them during working time. But to remove them entirely?

In my opinion, this entire incident is more posturing by the current administration in their effort to appear morally superior. Maybe Secretary Rice is truly offended by the pictures in those publications, maybe not. But if she were not part of an administration trying to display a tender regard for religious sensibilities, this issue would probably have never come up. It is, of course, equally possible that this is an attempt to attract the “women’s vote.”

In fairness, I have to admit the possibility that Secretary Rice ordered the removal because she was truly, personally offended by them. That, however, is the most frightening of the possibilities that occurs to be. If that is the case, then it is a clear example of a government official abusing her power to censor a segment of the press within her domain. An attack on the First Amendment by a government official is even more scary if it stems from personal motives.

The article hints that Maxim, FHM, and other men’s magazines that feature pictures of non-nude women may be next to go. From a standpoint of taste, I could agree with that – while I don’t read any of these magazines on a regular basis, I’d rather read a Playboy with all the pictures removed than a Maxim left intact. But taking the censorship to that next level would be an interesting sign of the real motives behind it. Would she be so obvious as to remove Maxim…while leaving Cosmopolitan on the stands?

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